Each person with sensory defensiveness develops his own set of behaviors. Usually combinations of sensory avoidance and sensory seeking behaviors. The following is a partial list of common symptoms to each of the sensory systems. These symptoms may differ from mild, moderate, and severe levels.
People with tactile defensiveness avoid letting others touch
them, and may touch, grab, push others in an effort to control touching. They frequently resist hair washing and cutting, nail clipping, face washing. They may act like their life is being threatened when being bathed or dressed. Frequently irritated by clothing, waistbands, certain fabrics, labels, or new clothes.
They may avoid crowds and the unexpected touches that can occur. They may be agitated or even go into a flight/fight response when bumped by someone accidentally. They may be unnecessarily rough, bumping, crashing, and tackling on purpose as a way of seeking sensation. They may be very over responsive or very under responsive to pain. They often do not like to get their feet or hands dirty.
Awareness: The single most important step, I believe, is becoming aware of the symptoms and behaviors associated with sensory defensiveness. Usually done with the assistance of a trained OT, who examines a thorough sensory history. Most of these behaviors have been attributed to something else, other than a negative reaction to sensation. Once we realize what are reactions, and not a deliberate plan of an obstinate, defiant child, we can get to work on helping them.
Sensory Diet: This concept is based on the idea that each child requires a certain amount of activity and sensation to be most alert, adaptable, skillful, and calm. By careful planning we can use sensory input to help a child feel safe and organized in thought and movement throughout the whole day.
We use special activities, geared to each child's particular needs, at intervals during the day. When a disruptive event is about to occur, we can present specific sensory input, which prepares the child, and prevents a defensive response. We use activities that are appealing and fun to the child, which are much more effective when the child is interested and especially when the child himself directs them.
Adult involvement and direction can be limited in that we can make activities available, set up the environment, and supervise for safety. We often play with our children, showing them different kinds of appropriate play that will help them.
An example: Ms. Wilbarger suggested for one technique for Oral Defensiveness. Before each meal and tooth brushing... rub firmly and quickly on the roof of the mouth with your finger covered with a washcloth. Push down on the lower teeth, or have the child bite the washcloth to add some jaw muscle movement. This can be done several times a day. Doing this PRIOR to a meal or tooth brushing may help to prevent the defensive response. If your child has a problem with oral sensitivity, over/or under... ask your therapist to demonstrate this for you.
Also, ask your therapist to carefully list for you all the different identified sensitivities, and appropriate play or exercises to help. Each child has different needs.
SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS can be reduced and/or eliminated with the correct amount and types of activities to address it. As this is reduced, the behaviors that accompany it, will also be reduced. Keep in mind, therapy is maximized with family involvement.
Copyright © 2004 Michelle Morris. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The Out-of-Sync Child
- The parents bible to Sensory Processing Disorder Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist
- A comprehensive Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist; signs and
symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as
proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.
Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.
The Out-of-Sync Child - The parents bible to Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - A comprehensive Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist; signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.